BLOG TOUR – The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin

I’m not sure that any review could do true justice to this book, but I’ll do my best! The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one of those special books that comes around every once in a while that you just know is a little piece of magic; one of those life-changing stories that weaves an enchanting spell on its readers and leaves them on a book high!

Lenni is 17. She’s wise beyond her years; rebellious; questioning; viciously funny … and also has a terminal illness, so she’s living on the May Ward in the Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital. Margot is 83. She’s a quirky, tiny little old lady who always dresses in various shades of purple. She’s eccentric and has lived her life out of the box, but now she finds herself in the same hospital as the irreverent Lenni, and the stars align to ensure that these two characters meet and a firm bond of friendship is created.

Between the two of them, they’ve lived 100 years, and in the Rose Room, where they attend art classes, Lenni decides that they will paint the story of these 100 years. Through these paintings, the story of the highs and lows of the lives of Lenni and Margot come to life and we are propelled along the trajectory of time as we learn what has brought our two protagonists to this point. Along the way we meet the colourful characters who have made them who they are.

There’s the free-spirited Meena, who I never could quite pin down, to be honest! But she is an integral part of Margot’s story, as is the lovable Humphrey whose chapters had me weeping. He is all heart, all feeling, all love, and I pictured him as this wonderful cuddly teddy bear of a man, who enveloped Margot and rather than sweeping her up in a whirlwind romance, rather drew her in slowly and warmly, with his talk of stars and constellations, after which he settled her by the crackling hearth where he wrapped her in blankets and fed her mugs of hot chocolate until there would be no other decision than to stay! This was the type of relationship and the sort of comfortable life and love I imagined they had.

For Lenni, there’s her father who seemed to be a mere fleeting shadow of a man, helpless in the face of her diagnosis and her mature handling of all that follows. Then there is Father Arthur, the chaplain at the hospital chapel, who Lenni challenges with a candour that he finds both refreshing and startling, but when he thinks about it, could he really expect anything less from one so young who has so little time left? It is in the interactions between Lenni and Father Arthur where the author truly excels: these are conversations that alternately broke my heart and made me laugh out loud! They’re witty, introspective, and deeply moving. I adored New Nurse (with her cherry coloured hair) and Paul the Porter (with his many tattoos) too – it’s so obvious that their young patient crept into their hearts and that they would do anything for her – even if it meant breaking the rules, within reason! I even managed to find a soft spot for Nurse Jacky, ‘cruel mistress of the May Ward’!

So, in case you haven’t already guessed I absolutely loved this beautiful 5-star read! It’s ultimately a book about friendship – how friendship can be between just about anyone we choose, regardless of who they are, who we are, and what our circumstances may be! The bonds that we form with those people are eternal, and the stories that come about through those bonds need to be told, whether we tell them with words – orally or written – or through pictures. We should never let our stories be lost. Thank you, thank you to Marianne Cronin for being a top-notch storyteller and ensuring that this artform remains alive and well!

Thank you to Random Things Blog Tours for inviting me on the tour for this wonderful book so that we can help to spread the word about it make sure that as many people as possible, far and wide know that they need to read it. Also, take a look at what all these lovely bloggers are saying about the book …

About the author:

Marianne Cronin was born in 1990. She studied English and Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Birmingham. She now spends most of her time writing, with her newly-adopted rescue cat sleeping under her desk. When she’s not writing, Marianne can be found performing improv and stand up in the West Midlands, where she lives. Her debut novel The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is to be published around the world and is being adapted into a feature film by Sony/Columbia Pictures. It has been sold in 25 territories to date.

Marianne Cronin says:

I started writing a few days after a girl I’d known at university had passed away of a terminal illness and I remember going to the big Tesco that day and having this feeling that all the people around me didn’t know she had lived or died and it got me thinking about the mark we leave on the world. I had known the girl through our university course and whenever we’d worked together, she was lovely but quite shy. When she died, a lot of her closer friends and carers wrote on Facebook about her sense of humour and her cheeky personality – a side that I hadn’t seen to her myself and I wondered if maybe I hadn’t been looking hard enough and that played a big part in Lenni’s creation – that the outside world might see her as one thing, but in reality she is a firecracker of a personality.
Then with my own experienced in hospital (which were investigations for my heart) I found myself thinking a lot about my own mortality and when I was having an ultrasound on my heart it really hit me how fragile the whole system keeping me alive is.  While waiting for appointments, I found myself paying a lot of attention to all the little details in the hospital, but also saw a lot of the funny side too, such as when I was strapped to an ECG machine and asked to run on a treadmill without a top on – not my finest hour! Finding comfort in friends is definitely a good theme and pertinent to the current state of the world. I wanted the book to show the power in female friendships – a lot of film/tv depicts female friendships as toxic and competitive and I think that can diminish the strength that female friendships can provide – especially in my own life, I’ve been blessed with some amazing friends and I think Lenni and Margot’s friendship really brings out the best in them. 

Finding faith

I was sent to Catholic school (by my atheist parents) and it was pretty terrifying – because my family weren’t practicing Catholics, I never knew what the rules were or what the words to the prayers were and I was always scared of getting in trouble for doing something wrong. Arthur, the priest in the novel is based on one of my very dear friends I met at university. When we first met, he was very religious and I was very not and we would have these fun debates about religion that would go on for hours. And it was
the first time I’d been friends with someone who had such different opinions to my own, but we managed to be great friends (and still are) and what I wanted to show with Arthur is that you can be friends with someone even if you are completely different. 
Arthur’s tolerance of other faiths/beliefs was really important to me. I didn’t want him to be a conventional priest –  I think it’s rare to find someone so open to having their beliefs questioned and so willing to support others, so maybe that’s part of his appeal? When I was writing, I kept thinking of the quote that friendship is a natural reaction and can’t be forced. And I think with Lenni and Arthur, their friendship happens almost by accident and is just a natural reaction to these two compatible personalities. He’s her sounding board for the big questions and I think we’d all like to have someone like Arthur in our lives! 
I was very Catholic until I went to secondary school (which was also catholic in name but not really in practice – it was quite liberal – we didn’t have a school uniform and could call our teachers by their first names) and then it was just a case of slowly questioning and unlearning everything I had learned up until then. Lenni’s debates with Arthur involved a lot of the internal debates I had with myself when I was struggling to believe. I think not believing can be quite a lonely thing, especially if you used to have faith or a lot of the people around you have faith.


Improvisation:

I do improv (which is basically the same thing as that TV show Whose Line is it Anyway) and it is almost the opposite of being a writer, because writing is all about capturing thoughts and characters and preserving them to keep forever, whereas improv is making something up on the spot, doing it, and then it’s gone and you can never get it back. I’d already written the first draft of Lenni when I started going to evening classes to learn improv, but it gave the creative part of my brain a real boost – getting outside my usual overthinking and worrying and planning and getting me used to just doing things. One of the first things they teach you in improv is to stop trying to be funny – it never works when people are trying for a laugh, you just have to follow the scene and sometimes you’ll end up with something interesting rather than funny. And when I was writing L&M, I genuinely wasn’t setting out for it to be funny, so it’s been lovely to have that feedback, mostly I was just having fun with Lenni amusing herself in
conversation with other people. My PhD also helped me with the rhythm of dialogue – my PhD examined how impoliteness between fictional characters creates humour and so for the data analysis I transcribed many many hours of British sitcom data and that helped me figure out how fictional conversations can flow. I think humour as a defence mechanism and humour in the face of darkness (gallows humour?) is quite a British thing and something I tried to use in the book. Whenever I’m scared or upset, the first thing I try to do it to make myself laugh or smile about something. and I think we’ve seen humour as a defence
being so important to the public throughout Covid – especially on platforms like tik tok. 

I’d had the idea for the setting after seeing a segment on This Morning – a feature on a hospital’s art therapy room. I’d wanted to have an intergenerational friendship for set in this hospital art room and this felt perfect

As research, I watched (and cried a lot at) the Channel 4 documentary My Last Summer which explored the lives of people living with terminal illness. It picked out the isolation terminally ill people were feeling and how some had been (or felt they had been) abandoned by family and friends who didn’t know how to cope with their diagnosis. The project made me think about the two sides of illness and how someone may seem on the outside to be very ill, but be full of life and wit and energy in reality. I tried to
incorporate this into Lenni – that people who pass her and see her think she is weak, but she is really a firecracker of a person, which anyone who takes the time to speak to her discovers.

I had a number of hospital appointments when I was in the early stages of writing. I had ECGs and heart scans, exercise tests and all sorts which were trying to find out why my heart rate was too high. Spending time in hospital having these tests done gave me the opportunity to see parts of the hospital I hadn’t seen before. The same when I had a minor surgery, the experience and vulnerability of that contributed to some of Lenni’s surgery scenes.

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